Critical Introduction

"Chocolate Cake with Maple Peppermint Chocolate Frosting (Paleo)" by paleodulce is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Chocolate Cake with Maple Peppermint Chocolate Frosting (Paleo)” by paleodulce is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In our analysis of Raymond Carver’s “A Small, Good Thing,” published in 1983, we each took a different perspective. Each essay is a lens of critical theory that we have used to look deeper into “A Small, Good Thing,” and the themes, ideas, and structures it employs. These lenses range from New Criticism to Deconstruction, including essays on the historical, psychological, and gender views of Carver’s short story.

New Criticism

“A Small, Good Thing,” by Raymond Carver, uses empathetic plot devices and takes advantage of the classic Three Act Structure in a story that explores our relationship with tragedy and acceptance. Starting with vague descriptions of characters meant to act as vessels for the reader to fill with themselves and disrupting the projected plot with the shocking accident of a hit and run, tension is set in both the story and the reader. This tension finds its climax at the moment that Ann and Howard finally confront the baker, where their anger and irrationality peak using him as a scapegoat and an outlet of frustration. However, as the baker steps down and comforts them as someone who also experienced loss, a new door is opened to them and the couple comes to accept the death of their son with the help of his bread and words. This ending is used to foster a bit of hope in the reader as it leaves them with this scene, reminding the reader that they too have the strength to look at the events and circumstances of their own lives and accept the outcomes of what they could not control.

Reader Response

The Reader Response essay expands on the overall impression and observed connections in “A Small, Good Thing” by Raymond Carver. While this story is about fear, loss, and grief, the story’s main focus and theme is misunderstanding, particularly between the baker and the grieving parents, Ann and Howard, However, this theme is consistent with all the characters. From Ann and Howard, to Franklin’s family and Ann, to Doctor Francis and Ann and Howard, and finally and most importantly, the baker and Ann and Howard. These connections are all made possible by the emblematic character, the child Scotty, who is the main focus of the confrontations and misunderstandings after his accident. Some interesting parallels exist between indirectly connected characters such as the baker and Doctor Francis. There are also some biblical symbolisms that can be found in the last few lines, along with a sense of healing, comfort, and hope.


The essay of deconstruction shows that Raymond Carver’s short story, “A Small, Good Thing” highlights the importance of treasuring the time we have with loved ones, and that even strangers can help us heal after hardship. However, there are several examples in the story that fail in their attempts to support this idea and even others that seem to contradict it.


The historical analysis essay connects “A Small, Good Thing” to previous versions of the story and Raymond Carver’s own interpretation of himself as a writer. It places the story in the context of the AIDS epidemic at the time and how power structures such as capitalism reveal their flaws during times of crisis. The story expresses fear towards healthcare professionals not always having the right answers, and anger towards the upper class who seem safe from tragedy because of their financial stability. There is also a stark contrast between the message of the first published version of this story, “The Bath,” and the story we are analyzing. Once the audience understands some of Carver’s thought process while writing each story, and the politics dominating this time period, “A Small, Good Thing” appears to encourage fellowship in the audience rather than fear and estrangement.

Psychological Criticism

“The Grieving Mind” essay looks deeper into how the short story, “A Small, Good Thing” by Raymond Carver connects with the five-stages of grief model and the ways it may step outside of it. The five stages of grief are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. The essay draws parallels in moments that the characters, Ann and Howard, go through each stage of grief. It ventures into the insights of the character’s mindset and explains why they are relatable and understandable to the reader and how their emotions during one of the five stages affected their actions.


A Feminist Analysis of “A Small, Good Thingdiscusses how gender stereotypes come through in different authors perspectives. It establishes that stereotypes are the way our mind sees the world and how these stereotypes tend to be the definers of our “facts.” Overall, this essay examines the stereotypical perceptions of gender and how they are expressed through Ann Weiss and the other female characters in the story. It explores the power dynamics between male and female characters and shows how constantly male characters are asserting verbal and physical dominance over female characters. This essay covers “mansplaining,” gender roles, and female emotions through the perspective of the male author. Many of these things may have been done intentionally since stereotypes are often the lens through which we view the world.

While we each had a different perspective for analyzing Raymond Carver’s “A Small, Good Thing,” and perhaps came to different conclusions, after looking deeper into it using our respective lenses, one thing is clear. We each enjoyed this short story and regardless of what lens or perspective a reader looks through, that is the most important reason to read anything. We hope that those who read our collaborative works are just as thrilled about this story as we have become.


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Beginnings and Endings: A Critical Edition Copyright © 2021 by Liza Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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